Tom Light, raised in Greene County, Tennessee
July 5, 2016
“So far, I’ve not had to live under a bridge or anything terrible like that, or out in the country out in the fields somewhere. And so my advice would be if you’ve got a great job, if you’re making steady income, no matter how bad it seems, stick with it, because it can get a whole lot worse.”
Tom Light, raised in Greene County, Tennessee:
“I was born and raised in Greene County, Tennessee on a one-hundred and sixty-acre farm. I lived there and farmed until 1984, when I joined the Navy. My mom and dad, they’re still alive. They sold the farm when I was in the Navy, so they live down at Fall Branch, and they’re in their late eighties.
My first ship was an aircraft carrier, and I worked on the flight deck. Every day was an interesting story up there. It’s so dangerous crawling under aircraft while they’re actually turning. But the greatest experience of my life was when I was in the Navy, on the second ship. I went to weather school in the Navy, and I did weather on the USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf.
After we were done with our tour, we had liberty. Our port call was in Mombasa, Kenya. You know, Africa, and I’d always wanted to be out, I’m a big nature guy. I love nature. I remember watching Marlin Perkins, Wild Kingdom, when I was a kid. The Navy offered a two-day air safari, and they were going to pay for most of it, and so I went. We flew out in the middle of the Serengeti, the plains, and camped out that night in Africa, right in the middle of nowhere.
I was out there for two days, and we went on safari, not hunting safari, but with a camera. A photo safari, and it was just a blast. It was the rainy season, and where we were supposed to camp at, the landing strip was underwater. This was a little ten, twelve seat Piper, and our landing strip was underwater. We had to land forty miles from our camp, and the first pass we made we had to get a herd of water buffalo off the landing strip before we could land.
We had a forty-mile Land Rover journey across Africa. It was unbelievable. It was just the greatest experience I’ve ever had. Like I said, it was the rainy season and the mud, and the roads, we almost got stuck several different times, and we were doing forty or fifty miles when we hit those ruts. It was just a great, great experience.
My ship received an Expeditionary Medal in 1987 for our Persian Gulf tour for what we did over there. We were just at sea, but still you know we supported a lot of the operations, ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) and various things.
I got out of the Navy in April of ’88, although I stayed in the reserves until ’92. After that, I went back to college, and I graduated from Florida State in 1993 with a degree in meteorology. After I got my degree, in 1993, I was hired by the Federal Government and the National Weather Service. I had that job until 2001. I got fired from that because I basically couldn’t handle adversity when it came my way. I got transferred to Jackson, Kentucky, and I hated it because I just had a brand-new home in Florida that was just a thousand times better then living in Jackson, Kentucky in that old apartment, my circumstances since then.
So, you know I screwed that up myself. The system didn’t really fail me.
I’ve been homeless twice. The first time I ended up homeless, I got involved in the stock market in 2008, before then actually, and I lost everything. I ended up at the VA, at the Dom (Domiciliary Care Program) from November 2009 until December 2010. That turned out to be a fairly good experience, to be honest about it. To start off, you’re terrible. You’re homeless you know, all this and that and the other. But I ended up working for the VA, the CWT Program (Compensated Work Program). I’d even saved some money, and when I got out of there I had six thousand dollars that I’d made while I worked there so when I got out I was able to get an apartment, and try to start back to school at ETSU.
This second time, I’m homeless now here at the Salvation Army. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in 2014 from ETSU in Computer Science, and since then I’ve not been able to get work. I think the system has kind of failed me in that regard. I’m not even sure why. I’m a vet, and I’m supposed to get all these vet preferences, you know to be hired, and I meet the minimum requirements, but there’s always someone who’s more qualified than me. My position has always been, if I’ve got the same requirements, the same qualifications as one guy, as this guy, and I’m a vet and he’s not, I should get the job. That’s just the way I see it. In fact, let’s say I’ve got a Bachelors’ Degree, and this guy’s got a Masters’ Degree, I’m a vet and he’s not, I think being a vet trumps the education, but that’s not the way the system is working right now. I think there’s a lot of lip service to giving vets jobs, but I don’t think there’s a lot of action, to be honest about it.
I’m working for A-1 right now, a temporary service over here in Meadowview, and trying to get enough money to fix my truck. I’ve had several interviews in the past few weeks with the Department of Defense, working for them, and I’ve got another one scheduled. If I can’t get that, if I can’t get work in my field, I’d like to get my truck fixed and start my own business where I just basically just do computer repair, and drive to people’s homes for fifty bucks, fix their computers and install software…whatever.
I never did go on the street. I always had somebody to stay with, in the interval while I was still looking for work. I was able to get in the Dom or get in here. So far, I’ve not had to live under a bridge or anything terrible like that, or out in the country out in the fields somewhere.
And so my advice would be if you’ve got a great job, if you’re making steady income, no matter how bad it seems, stick with it, because it can get a whole lot worse.”
Dale Christy; Grant Per Diem Program, Salvation Army, Kingsport, Tennessee
July 5, 2016
“We’ve got a good group of veterans here right now and most of them have positive attitudes, because of the situations they’re in. You know, they could be worse. They keep their heads up and keep looking forward to better things.”
Dale Christy; Grant Per Diem Program, Salvation Army, Kingsport, Tennessee:
“I was born in Ohio, but I lived most of my life in Colorado. I went back to Ohio and married my childhood sweetheart. We got married back in ’77, and that’s when I joined the United States Army.
I was an Infantry soldier, known as a grunt. I did my Basic Training in Fort Knox, and from there, I went to Fort Benning to do my Infantry training. They put me through a Ranger Regiment down there; a team, and they shipped me off to Vandenberg, Germany. I got out in November of ’79 after two years. It was peacetime, and there wasn’t any action, but we were on the Berlin Wall for a while guarding. There was a lot of walking involved. I was used to a lot of walking and hiking, but it was fun, just to see the Berlin Wall and realize what it was all about. There was a gate where we walked past with U.S. Soldiers on one side, and Communist on the other. We waved, traded snacks and stuff like that. We got to talk a little bit, but there wasn’t much to it. We guarded the ammo dumps. That was the only time we got to carry live ammo, besides walking along the wall. Our ammo dumps were huge there, and our missile silos, and things like that, and it was pretty interesting.
When I got out of the service, I went to work for a city street department in Northeast Ohio, and but my life was in Colorado. I’d grown up there as a kid. I had a lot of friends there and girlfriends. I tried to get my wife to move to Colorado. She didn’t want to leave home, and at that time, the second kid was on the way.
I first went to Colorado and lived in the Denver area, and after Denver I moved south, down to Pueblo, Colorado. A little, steel mill town and went to work down there as an electrician in the steel mill, and went to the hot band plant. They made railroad tracks.
I ended up getting married again. We lived happily in Colorado for years. Then, I don’t know, my mental state just, you know, it might have been part of my drinking problem. I had a drinking problem. My mental state just went out of whack, and I became bipolar, had a touch of PTSD, and I just had a mental breakdown and ended up wanting to commit suicide. I became homicidal, and was doing crazy things, and it landed me in jail a couple of times.
I was traveling, and I ended up in Georgia to visit my daughter, and I came back up to Knoxville after I visited my daughter, stayed down there for a while. I was in the Homeless Shelter for about two months. Then stress and my mental ability went flat again, and I just lost control and had to call somebody. I called the Crisis Center, and they brought me up here to Johnson City to the Mountain Home Hospital, and evaluated me for a few weeks. They sent me into the Dom, put me through a mental, mental phase or they put me through a SUDP, and they put me through the mental part of the Dom area, and had me evaluated and tested. They found me stable enough to come out to the environment.
I was up there for a little over ten weeks, then they sent me here, and I’ve been here for the Grant Per Diem Program for a year today, as a matter of fact. 9-11, 9-11 has been pretty successful for me here. Dom is another housing facility at the hospital, at the VA Center and Mountain Home, and they house in two main rooms, have a big cafeteria in there, and that’s where they hold all their classes for drug and alcohol. They have all kinds of doctors on hand, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, mental doctors, medical doctors. They have all that in one little facility there and the houses. They used to house about three hundred veterans, but now they’re down to a hundred and some. I believe they put in more office space, and made less room for the veterans, and I don’t know why they did that, but that’s the way it come out to be, and actually it’s a real nice place. I’d recommend it to anybody that’s having a problem to try to get in that program. It’s a good, clean, and healthful environment, with a lot of good doctors and people to take care of you there.
I’ve been to a couple of hospitals. I went to the VA in Denver once, and it was a big waiting line. That was probably back in the eighties. From there, I kind of stayed away from the VA part of my [care] , and went to just hospital doctors, doctors on the street, and stuff. My next visit to a VA Hospital was Charleston, South Carolina, from there I went to Georgia, from Georgia I went to Decatur, from Decatur to Pittsburgh VA Hospital, back to Decatur, and then I ended up here.
So, for about the last ten years I’ve been on the east coast going to VAs, and has been the best one ever taking care of me. They have checked me the best for my health and found out I had an aneurysm. I just went through cancer treatment, colon and prostate cancer treatment. I went to radiation for nine weeks, forty-five days, every day it was straight in a row, and my levels are coming down. Everything looks good so far, and then I’ve just got to worry about my aneurysm. They don’t want to operate on me yet, put that stent in there. It’s not big enough yet, I guess. But I’m thinking, why let it get bigger? It might bust. You know, I don’t wanna die!
I think the country can do more. I think we can provide better housing, more housing for us. I mean, go rent a house across the street, put four or five veterans in it. You know what I mean? Let them run the household. Just come in with a counselor a couple of times a month or week or so. See how things are going or have the doctors stop by. If they do that, or have them go to the hospital for their mental health evaluations, and monthly visits, and things like that, provide transportation. The Salvation Army provides our transportation here at Grant Per Diem, part of it pays for it. I think we should have our own DAV van, which would be a good idea, but we don’t have that unfortunately.
I’m fifty-seven. I’m kind of invested in a pressure washing business with my daughter and my son-in-law, and a year from now I’ll probably still be here in Kingsport because I get my best care that I’ve had in Johnson City, in Mountain Home. They’re the most caring people that I’ve met in the VA system in the last ten years. They’re the ones that found my cancer for me, and you know I’ve been here long enough, and went through all the prognoses. They discovered all this and I’m just happy they did, you know? In time, I’m ready to get it all taken care of, so I’m going to stick around this area. I plan of getting housing here soon. William’s looking to help me look for a home now. I’m looking for subsidized housing though, and there’s not too many of those around here, I guess. And I have a background for being in jail, felonies, and things like that. So you know, but it’s going to be a little rough, but I think I can manage it. I’ve never lived on my own before, always had a wife or my kids. I lived with my daughter for a couple of years. I’m gonna be on my own. I don’t know if I’m really looking forward to it or not. I hope the people stop by and visit is what I’m saying I hope they don’t give up on me, and say, ‘Screw the old man. Let him live on his own.’ I’ll be able to manage it.
I’ve got crafts. As a matter of fact, we’ve got some from the DAV fellow, Sam, today. He brought us in a bunch of leather crafts to do, and plus I get crafts in the mail, once every couple of months from the Homeless Veterans Program that they have. It’s from the people out in the world that can afford helping out the veterans, hospitalized and mentally challenged. I get crafts and I do craft work, and there’s always a big screen TV, that and I’ve got a little workbook over there, my addiction plan to work on. Oh yeah, plenty to do. Plus, I drive other veterans when the van’s not running around. They need to go places, like to the store. That’s where I just came from. I took two veterans down to the thrift store to get some clothes, so I look out for them that way, too.
I’ve had a good attitude since I’ve been here. This is a pretty positive place, too. William, I don’t know if you’ve met him. William Ellis. He’s our caregiver and pretty much our handyman and everything else here, plus our Grant Per Diem official. He keeps you with a good attitude, because he has a good attitude most of the time. We’ve got a good group of veterans here right now and most of them have positive attitudes, because of the situations they’re in. You know, they could be worse.
They keep their heads up and keep looking forward to better things. I can’t say it’s the medication, because my medication has bothered me and I haven’t been taking it here regularly, and the doctor is taking me off of it slowly. He said take half of it now, you know just in the evenings instead of taking it during the day, because I start feeling weird on them, and I want to go out and do things that I shouldn’t be doing. It just makes me feel that way. But my attitude, I’m glad I have a positive attitude. Everybody around here seems to love me, and I take care of the children down here every Tuesday. Me and another lady veteran here, we cook for the kids, and the John 3:16 program they have here for the children. We take care of them.”
Melissa Jackson, U.S. Air Force (former)
July 5, 2016
“I want to have just a simple little place, maybe a front porch. Somewhere I can live out in peace, and not deal with a lot drama. Just a peaceful little place where I can play my music loud, have a garden and my animal, and a door between me and the world.”
Melissa Jackson, U.S. Air Force (former)
“I grew up in Tullahoma, Lynchburg, Tennessee. We grew up very poor, so there was a lot of family abuse. There was a lot of alcohol abuse. However, my mother was a good mother. She did the best she could with the tools she had. We were raised with very high morals.
My brother did two tours of duty in Vietnam. My uncle died in the Pacific. Law Enforcement and the military runs through my family, so I sort of followed suit when I got to be eighteen, [and I joined the Air Force]. I was a Medical Administrative Specialist, McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. I maintained medical records, did a little bit of coding, just sort of retrieving the records. I was the person you’d meet and who would say, ‘What’s your last four?’ I’d put the paperwork in there when you finished the doctor’s appointment. I was only in for between ’81 and ’82.
I was sexually assaulted by four military police officers in February of ’82, left for dead in the snow with physical injuries, and back then it wasn’t something that we talked about. It was at night outside the Airman’s Club. I was raped and sodomized, beaten, but I knew not to shower. I went into the room and I just sat in the dark all night, tried to think. I can’t call the military police. They’re the ones that did it. I can’t call the civilian police, because they’re going to tell me it’s a military matter. I worked in the clinic, so I thought, I’ll go in there, and they’ll see my injuries, and they’ll bring it up, and that’ll open the door for me to talk about it.
Well, I worked all day and nobody mentioned it. I got looks of disdain, like maybe my boyfriend had beat me up, or maybe I deserved what I got. So at 4:00 when everybody else was getting ready to leave, I went back and talked to my own primary doctor, and I said, this is what happened to me last night. I could tell he was pained by it. It was like he was working with his arms tied behind back, and he knew what was going to happen if he brought it up. He reached out and he handed me a tube of ointment, and he said, ‘Here’s this.’ And that’s what he told me, he said, ‘If you pursue this, it’s going to ruin your military career, and if I help you, it will ruin mine.’ At that point, I just shut it up inside, and so that I ended up with the nightmares, and the flashbacks, the panic attacks, the fear. I would drink to a blackout just to make it stop.
I started drinking and ended up with, although at the time we didn’t know it, PTSD. I had some minor infractions, like I didn’t pay my airman’s bill one month. I tested over the limit on a blood alcohol test, that sort of thing, because I had kept my mouth shut, and just started trying to deal with it the best way I could
Within a few months of my reporting it, they put me on a plane back to Atlanta, and gave me an Honorable Discharge, but with a Personality Disorder, because back then like I said, they didn’t talk too much about PTSD. So for thirty-two years, I never discussed it again. I was very angry. I wanted to be a lifer.
I raised a son on my own. I couldn’t work, so I drew SSI. So I raised a son on seven hundred dollars a month. My mother died in ’99, and I’ve been isolated from my family because they couldn’t understand why I had these issues, and they didn’t want to be around me, and so we’ve been completely estranged. I’ve got a brother and two sisters that I’m estranged from still, but it was lonely and miserable.
About three years ago, I hooked up with some people with the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) on Facebook. They’re based out of Washington, D.C., and they deal with issues, primarily military sexual trauma. But they deal with other issues that affect women in the military, and then when you’re discharged. I didn’t know that benefits were available for that offense, and they directed me and helped me, guided me through that process. The doctor didn’t bring it up to anyone else at the time, but he did document everything, all my injuries and everything, and I was lucky. So they awarded me one hundred percent with no employability and no further reviews. So, I do have one hundred percent now, and I’ve been advocating. I’ve spoken in Washington, in front of Congress, and in front of three hundred survivors, and finally told my story. So, I’m going through a sort of delayed healing process now. It was hell. It was absolute hell.
You know there are a lot of women who face housing problems, marital problems when they get out, custody problems, those sorts of things. They just generally advocate and they help to get legislation initiated, and they speak out where others are afraid to speak out. They’re very bold and courageous women and they don’t back down. I’ve had people in California and Hawaii drop everything and get on email with me and get me through a day, you know, or lead me to the person that I need to talk with to get something resolved. They do some really good work.
I still suffer from nightmares, and just a lot of the symptoms of PTSD that I just can’t seem to get a grip on still. But, I’m more functional than I have been, and I think coming out with that secret has helped me more than anything.
There are outlets now, and that’s why I work with SWAN, and I advocate for other women, and men, too. It happens to men, actually more often than it does with women, and that’s been sort of an outlet for me. But it’s a lot better for the younger people that are in now. The Vietnam veterans and the Korean veterans, all them, they have absolutely no outlet for that, and it was happening back then, too. So it’s progressively gotten better. But I find that most of the people who are in now and have suffered from that, they go directly from the military out into service to other survivors, and so there is an outlet. It is getting better. It’s not where it should be, but it is getting better. At least they will compensate you if you’re evidence-based now.
To make a long story short, when I got my compensation I went out and I bought everything that I wanted, furniture of my own and everything, after struggling to raise my son. He’s brilliant. I had groomed him, and when he graduated from high school, he had a two hundred thousand dollar scholarship to UT, an academic scholarship, but he met a girl online and he blew it, so we’ve had some struggles over the past year. I ended up having to make him leave my house, because he got physical with me. We moved to Knoxville, and I moved into a house that had black mold, so I ended up losing quite a bit of my furniture. I got mold sick. I was malnourished and anemic. They were giving me cancer nausea medication, so I had to go into the Domiciliary, and they saved my life over there.
Veterans have reached out when no one else was there for me. When I left my house that had mold, I had just gotten a DUI. I was looking at time in jail. My family had abandoned me. My son wasn’t speaking to me. I was living in the house, very sick. I called a fellow in Knoxville named Ed and I said, ‘Ed, I don’t even have any way to move my things to storage, and I’m so sick I can’t even lift a spoon to my mouth.’ I was sitting out on my porch one day, and all of a sudden this flotilla pulls up in front of my house with Harley Davidsons and flatbed trucks. It was a bunch of Vietnam Veterans, and they moved my stuff into storage for me.
When I was supposed to go in the Dom the next day, they sent me up to Johnson City the night before, put me up in a five-star hotel, paid for all my meals. Since then, I have had veterans to turn to when no one else was there, because we take care of each other… especially Vietnam Veterans. They know how it is to be treated poorly and overlooked, and they will come to your side. I even had one of those veterans who moved me, he gave me his rabbit’s foot that he had for two tours of duty in Vietnam, and I still have that. It’s priceless. So I still have a lot of struggles, but there are options out there for veterans if they will take the time to get involved. And when you help someone, there’s a common saying in Twelve-Step Programs. You can’t keep it unless you give it away, and that’s exactly their philosophy, too.
The Domiciliary is the inpatient facility there in Johnson City, and they have them everywhere. They treat everything from your physical ailments, they try to get you in there and get you back on track with your medication, your appointments, any surgeries that you might need. If you have substance abuse issues, they put you through a treatment program. Then, they have a special program called psychosocial that they primarily treat veterans with PTSD. It’s a good rounded program that’s quite understaffed. Once you get in there and get your initial appointments taken care of, you’re sort of warehoused.
There are very strict rules. With substance abuse problems relapse, they acted quite a bit differently between the men and the women. The men, if they relapsed, would get written up or put on restriction, and the women get booted out the door. There are only five women there on average for a hundred and forty men. That’s still an issue that we deal with, trying to get equal everything. It’ll be a struggle for a long time.
I relapsed, and had to leave the Domiciliary. I moved into a extended stay hotel for about six months, and there were a lot of things that I didn’t want to be around going on over there. When I moved in, it was January, so it was cold, and so I pretty much stayed to myself. As the weather would begin to get warmer, people would sit out on the stoops, and they would drink. They would use drugs. You would go to take your trash out, and they would catcall you, that sort of thing, and the landlord wouldn’t do anything about it. There was prostitution going on, and I just felt desperate to get out of there. I felt this huge pressure and a big trauma coming. Stress is my weakest point, and I thought, I couldn’t save money while I was there, because of having to pay bills. I couldn’t save money for deposits and all that. I draw three thousand dollars a month, but the problem is if I pay rent and car payments, and my insurance, and my storage, and all that, I can’t save enough for deposits to get moved into a place that would be good for me. So, I need a place where I can save money. So that’s kind of why I went back into the Domiciliary, hoping that I could do it there.
When I was there I was sexually harassed. With my background, it’s really traumatic. This last time I was over there, I had to attend a group. It was mandatory, all men, which I don’t have any problem with. I’m used to dealing with men, and I’m used to when I was in the service the sexual harassment was sort of hazardous duty. We knew what we were getting into. But I had to listen to this one guy who was schizophrenic. I tried to cut him some slack, but he started talking in the group one day about how to rape a woman with Rohypnol, and get away with it, and all the things you could do while she was under the influence of this drug, and I just absolutely lost it.
I went to the right people. I said, ‘Look, you’ve got stop this.’ They patted him on the wrist, and kept him in there, and every day I was confronted with seeing him in the hall, being stuck in the elevator with him by myself. It was causing me to have more nightmares about what happened to me, what could possibly happen to me, and they knew what was going on with me! They knew I was going through a crisis, and they didn’t reach out to me, didn’t help me in any way, and I relapsed. I’m not blaming the relapse on them. That was my weakness, but they should have seen it coming, and they should have taken more proactive measures. At that point I thought you know, with a hundred and forty men over there every day, you deal with it. You hear it a lot, and so it was just not conducive for me to save money, and it’s hard to stay to yourself. It’s hard to mind your own business, and so I feel like they did let me down. They did let me down. I feel like the VA, even though I have hundred percent medical care, they’re letting me down.
After I relapsed again, I had to leave [the Domiciliary].
I hadn’t saved any money, and my things are in storage, and so my option was to come here [The Salvation Army]. I was really reluctant simply because it was a homeless shelter, but I feel like I’ve gotten more help here, and more compassion here just in the month I’ve been here, than the entire time I was in the Domiciliary. The difference, I think, is that William here is phenomenal. He cares. He really cares, and he would do anything he could. So I think that’s the difference, a sort of a less generic and more personal level of care. He gets to know you on a personal level, and what your needs are, what your strengths are, and what your weak points might be.
I’ve got a little Mitsubishi Mirage, and I go get in my little car and I crank the stereo up. Sometimes I’ll drive to Big Stone Gap, just singing my heart out. (Laughs) Like, okay, there goes the stress. I’m good. I can go back now. It’s my outlet. I love everything but classical, and that’s because classical doesn’t have a beat. But I listen to everything. I really love The Dixie Chicks. I love Rascal Flatts, and I love Neil Young, and I even listen to some Rap. It’s music.
I’m an artist. I paint with acrylics, and I do craft work, and all kinds of things like that. I pretty much put that down a while back, and I’ve picked it up again since I’ve been here, which I never did at the Dom. [I paint] mostly abstracts. It’s more about color with me, than it is anything else. I have OCD, and it’s a little bit difficult, because seems like everything has to be symmetrical. What you’ve got on the left side, you’ve got to have on the right side, so it limits me artistically. But my goal is to move to Elizabethton or the Hampton Area close to Watauga Lake, and when I do get settled, I’ve got probably another surgery coming up. But once I do get settled, I’m hoping that I can get in with the Warrior’s Canvas over there. It’s an art museum run by veterans, and they’re like me. They’re firm believers that art is a wonderful therapy for PTSD. They offer classes. They help you with supplies, art supplies. They’ll even show your work. They like for you to come in, if you do all that. They like for you to come in and volunteer with other veterans, and it’s spectacular.
I’m fifty-three, and I’m trying to find a job I can work. I’d like to be on better terms with my son, although he’s nineteen and he’s dating a sixteen-year-old girl, so I can’t enable him right now. I won’t condone it. I’m on the waiting list for a service animal. I can’t get him until I establish stable housing. I want to have just a simple little place, maybe a front porch. Somewhere I can live out in peace, and not deal with a lot drama. Just a peaceful little place where I can play my music loud, have a garden and my animal, and a door between me and the world.”